How Living Alone Impacts Nutrition

“The fondest Memories are made when gathered round the table”. For so many families, this is absolutely true. We celebrate special occasions by sharing a meal. Weddings, Birthdays, Graduations, Holidays…and even funeral receptions all have this is common. When we gather together, we eat. Food is such a central part of our culture. Even a simple week-night supper takes on greater significance when shared as a family. For many seniors, eating dinner together was an important ritual, feeding the body and nourishing the soul. So what happens when our elderly loved ones find themselves living alone?

Mealtimes can be very lonely for someone that is living alone. After losing a spouse, many lose their motivation to cook. We often hear things like “Why cook any more? It’s just me.” And what happens if the spouse that is left alone never learned to cook? Surviving on toast will only get you so far! The evening meal that they once looked forward to, often becomes a painful reminder of their empty house. Studies have shown that we are far more likely to eat a healthy and balanced meal while dining with someone else. Eating together also helps to meet our need for companionship.

As we age, our sense of smell and taste may diminish. This has a big impact on how we eat. Some people compensate by adding extra salt and sugary snacks. This can have a negative effect on health in areas such as high blood pressure and diabetes. Poor nutrition can also weaken our immune systems, deplete energy, and increase our risk of many other health conditions. Eating a balanced diet is crucial at any age, but even more so in our golden years.

For some seniors, the greatest obstacle to healthy eating is lack of access to fresh and healthy staples. Statistics show that nearly half of seniors that live alone do not get enough dairy products or fresh produce. This is especially problematic for those that are home-bound and unable to grocery shop often. When they do shop, they may be hesitant to purchase fresh items, instead opting for frozen and canned goods that will not expire before they are able to shop again.

Sometimes the biggest challenge is in preparing the food. If confined to a wheelchair or dependent on a walker for mobility, even the simplest task can be a challenge. If arthritis is a factor, it may be increasingly hard to open jars or chop vegetables. These types of difficulties have many seniors who live alone reaching for frozen meals that they can zap in the microwave and processed foods.

What can you do to help your loved ones?

  • Ask how they are getting to the grocery store and perhaps set up a weekly date to grocery shop with them.
  • Take a look in their refrigerator and pantry. Discard any food that is rotten and expired. Pay attention to the type of items they have been purchasing and identify what is missing from their diet.
  • Meals on Wheels is a wonderful organization. You can go to their website to learn about local programs that may benefit your loved one.
  • If you live close by, set up a weekly lunch or dinner date with your loved one. Share a meal and some conversation.
  • If meal prep is a challenge, brainstorm solutions. Are pre-cut veggies an option? Would moving kitchen items to other locations make them easier to reach?
  • You can hire an in home care agency to send a caregiver several times a week to prepare meals. They can also do light housekeeping and other tasks, if desired.
  • One of the many benefits to retirement and assisted living communities is that they offer three restaurant style meals each day served in their community dining room. Not only are the meals healthy and hearty, but mealtimes provide social interaction.

If you have concerns about your loved one’s nutritional needs, talk to their physician. Most importantly, keep the lines of communication open. Let your loved one know how much you care about their well-being. At Graham and Graham, our eldercare consultants are happy to help connect you with local resources and care options.

Author: Stacy Gibson